Boyd Tonkin: The labour pains of the literary judge

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The Independent Online

Apologies to recent mothers for undue flippancy, but, in one respect at least, judging the Man Booker Prize resembles childbirth. You want to have done it, but you don't want to be doing it. The entire messy business does more or less match human gestation. It begins with the public proclamation of that year's pregnancy, in the form of a judging panel. In October, the ordeal finishes as the stunned new victor blinks into the limelight.

With yesterday's long-list, we have now reached the third trimester. My experience, having judged the prize, is that the thumps and kicks intensify from here. Before, the judges can present an inscrutably serene face to the world. Who knows what miracle you may be incubating? The gossip-mongers may speculate but, in general, little leaks. Then, you have to choose. The sarky comments begin. From now on, they will ask (or may well this time): where's Justin Cartwright, or Ali Smith, or Andrew Miller, or AL Kennedy, or Graham Swift...?

You ride the sneers, agonise over the shortlist, and it all begins again, but you can glimpse light at the end of the birth-canal. We delivered JM Coetzee his second Booker (an innovation) for Disgrace. It's a modern classic; and we cradled it first. If you're happy with the outcome (as I was), you feel proud, and exhausted. And you forget the pain.